Lemonade, Lightened Up
There's nothing better than than an icy glass of lemonade on a hot day, but who needs all those extra calories from added sweeteners? Instead of turning to sugary, packaged mixes, make your own light and fresh versions. Here are our tricks.
A glass of sweetened lemonade (typically 8 ounces) that comes from a mix or carton has about 120 calories and about 7 teaspoons of sugar. When I checked out the options at my local grocery store, I found most are sweetened with tons of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, while the low-calorie version are drowning in artificial sweeteners.
Go for the real deal -- lemons, a small amount of sugar and water are all you need. Not only do you skip the preservatives and processed ingredients, but fresh lemon juice has a hefty dose of vitamin C and some potassium. Stick with fresh lemon (pass on the bottled stuff) -- it's a little more time consuming to do the squeezing, but you'll taste the difference. An average lemon yields about 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) depending on the size. Use a juicer or a handy reamer to get every last drop.
When you make your own, you can control the amount of sweetener -- and sugar’s not your only option. If sugar is your top choice, opt for the superfine variety, which dissolves into drinks better, or make a simple syrup. This way the sweetness distributes evenly in every glass -- no watery lemonade at the top of your pitcher and inches of sugar sinking to the bottom. You can also infuse your simple syrup with herbs like mint, basil, or orange peel for some extra (calorie-free) flavor.
Honey and agave nectar are some other sugar alternatives to try. Some of these sweeteners are actually sweeter than sugar, so you'll most likely need to use less. Start by swapping half the recommended amount of sugar (for example, if the recipes calls for 1 cup of sugar, then use no more than 1/2 cup of agave nectar). Then let your taste buds decide -- you can always add it a bit more. Since most of the calories in lemonade come from sweeteners, keep portions to a few teaspoons per person max.
Adding a splash of fresh fruit juice is my favorite way to add sweetness -- not to mention it boosts vitamins and antioxidants and gives your drink a dash of color and a bit more zing. I found this Food Network Magazine recipe that mixes mashed fresh strawberries, guava juice and lemon juice to make an interesting combo.
Lemonade recipes to try: